But no, I hadn't been transported into some obscure court case. Last night I found myself in a focus group conducting research on behalf of the TAC. In the wake of the Motorcycle Reconstruction campaign I challenged the TAC over the level of consultation with riders that it appeared to me must not have taken place, and I was invited to participate in a session in response to this challenge. The moment in question occured about 20 minutes in, during a conversation about why we do recreational riding, what motivates us and what is it that we experience in that moment. It's something I've done quite a bit of thinking about, and was happy to get on that particular hobby horse for a minute. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Studies in job satisfaction have talked about people are most satisfied in their work when you get to concentrate on one thing and you are challenged to the level of your ability. That's why I enjoy riding, because I've got to concentrate and think about what I'm doing..."I smacked that notion down fairly hard, but the moment left a bitter taste in my mouth. I can only speak to my impressions and not the actual intentions of the facilitator, but I was left without a doubt that trying to get us talking about why we are reckless. I found the experience very frustrating because there was a lot of good stuff that was said that was passed straight over, but any comment that was made that seemed to focus on risk taking was quickly jumped upon.
Facilitator: "You challenge yourself to the limit of your ability, so you are pushing as hard as you can go?"
A few things were made very clear to me through this process:
- TAC is not consulting with riding representatives in this process. They are trying to shape a marketing message, not engage with riders about the issues of safety.
- If they had showed the Motorcycle Reconstruction ad to the group I was in last night, they would have received unequivocal criticism of the premise of the accident from almost everyone in the room.
- TAC has a very clear understanding of the consequences when a rider crashes. They also have access to as much of the physical facts collected regarding a crash as VicPol collect. But they appear to not have any idea why riders ride, or why riders crash. They focus on the "physics" of the problem - the rider went too fast and lost control - but have no idea about the human part of the equation; what went wrong (if anything) in the rider's decision making on that one occassion that led to the crash.
What the whole "how do you react to this statistic?" section brought home to me was this: the TAC seems to consider recreational riding to be a behavioural problem like drink driving, and is probing for some nerve-touching statistic that will shock us out of this reckless, risk taking behaviour. They do not understand the mindset and motivations of the rider, and so assume that the crashes are a result of reckless risk taking and will seek to attempt behavioural modification to frighten riders out of taking risks.
In my opinion, they are not asking the right questions. They are not asking why riders crash. They are not listening when riders talk about why they ride. To me, it appears that they are aiming to promote slower riding rather than safer riding, probably in the mistaken belief that it is the same thing. When all you truly understand are the consequences of a crash, it must be easy to think that slower = safer, since an impact at 60 does less than an impact at 80. But this - if it is indeed how the TAC is thinking - is a logical failure, as it aims to lessen consequences rather than prevent the crash in the first place.
So I'll go on record with my prediction. The next TAC ad will feature a few riders on sports bikes in full leathers going for a spin through the hills. They will do some risky overtakes, and the last rider will misjudge it or cut it too close and as a result go too deep into a corner and run off into a tree. It will not mention target fixation, gravel or tree litter on the shoulders, poor road surface, oncoming traffic drifting wide... it will not talk about how to correctly judge approach speed, or about the safest cornering lines. In short it will do nothing to educate or promote safer riding, but will instead splash an over-simplified stereotype of risk taking behaviour across the TVs, radio stations and billboards of Victoria.
So dear TAC, I dare, urge and beg you to prove me wrong.